Make a Difference Day in Harambee

It was sunny and nearly 60 degrees on the early November Saturday TOAM families (along with the Harambee Great Neighborhood Initiative (HGNI)) gathered in the Harambee neighborhood in Milwaukee. This particular mission was to help elderly homeowners prepare their yards for winter. The TOAM mission was part of a bigger event that day sponsored by Interfaith Older Adult Programs in Milwaukee. All in all, more than 1,100 volunteers ended up helping over 220 homeowners in need!

TOAM families worked (and played) together to provide raking, hedge trimming, brush-hauling, weed pulling, and small tree removal. Everyone worked so efficiently that they were able to expand their help past the two homes originally assigned! TOAM families raked other neighbors’ yards and even helped remove garbage from an empty lot. The children even befriended a kitten who was recently orphaned. At the end of the day, much more was accomplished than caring for the landscape needs of the properties.

One of the homeowners beamed with happiness just as we were saying goodbye. The love and pride she had in her home was evident by her carefully tended potted plants, rose bushes, and trees throughout her yard. She mentioned how it was now too difficult for her to physically manage these things on her own. She was so grateful for the time and love we put into sprucing up her yard and exclaimed, “It looks so different! Thank you so much.”

Another mission has been accomplished! I am so grateful for these opportunities to show love to  our community. These moments are so important to parents, kids, and the people we serve. Thanks for joining us!

Debby Berenz

Halloween at St. John’s on the Lake, Year 3!

Toddlers and Kids on a Mission is now old enough to have traditions?!?! In 2014, our first mission ever was to spread cheer on Halloween at St. John’s with our little ones. Two years later, some of our original trick or treaters who were in baby carriers skipped through the hallway greeting residents and holding out their basket to collect candy. It felt so special to be there. 

We are very grateful to St. John’s for continuing to invite us in to their community at Halloween and with our monthly playgroups. 

Helping Moms with CareNet

TOAM families gathered in Brookfield at the end of September to assemble bags for moms who are assisted by CareNet Milwaukee. CareNet is located within the city of Milwaukee and serves 800-1000 mothers every year. The majority of the moms live below the poverty line (considered $11, 880 for individuals) and as such, have difficulty securing basic items for their babies. They are in great need of material items such as new/used baby clothes, strollers, baby toys/items, car seats (within expiration dates), and VOLUNTEERS. The place we thought we could help the most with this project was donating diapers and wipes.

TOAM gathered at Elmbrook Church under the leadership of one of our new KOAM directors, Debby.  It was also very special that we had Rachel, Care Net’s director, join us for the event. In the end, we helped make 35 bags for these moms in need!

We had a lot of new faces show up to our mission and we really appreciated the positive feedback we heard:

  • Parents appreciated the laid back atmosphere and didn’t feel judged for walking in late or if their kids decided to play instead of “work.”
  • It felt good to “give back” without having to leave babies and toddlers at home.
  • The inclusion of crafts in our project allowed the kids to give a part of themselves to the mothers at CareNet and that was really empowering to them.
  • The friendly atmosphere allows for relationships to be made between parents and their children, which helps to create a mini-community of like minded, caring people.

I’ll close with this beautiful reflection from Debby and her husband Nick:

If the little ones don’t remember or grasp all of the meaning of what we did, it is a great steppingstone to a lifetime of volunteering and helping others. If kids continue to stay involved, helping will be part of their “norm.” That is a goal that I would love to see happen with my family. Giving back is just something that is done.


St. John’s Inter-generational Play Group

Much of our organization’s mission focuses on empowering children to build relationships. We see this “friendship-making” as varied and multidimensional. Some of our events cross racial, economic, cultural, or neighborhood divides. Since we were given the gift of working with Allie Holliday who is professionally trained as a rehabilitation therapist for stroke survivors, we also have a strong constellation of events that help our children build relationships across generations.

Lynn Raines, co-founder of TOAM, initially made contact with St. John’s on the Lake for our first ever TOAM event because she was aware of the great reputation of the facility. After our very positive Trick or Treat event in 2014, we sought to deepen our connection to St. John’s. We started with an idea  and then Allie and Angie, from St. John’s, just ran with it.

Now, we have two separate playgroups that meet monthly, three sessions a year. Some of our TOAM families have attended since they started in October, 2015 and many new families have joined us- which is so exciting.

When it comes to raising children to thrive in our modern world, an important component of that is learning to get along with diverse groups of people including people they might not get to see at the playground or on the street every day. In the playgroups at St. John’s, our children are getting to know men and women who were born sometimes 90 years before they were! Sharing stories, smiles, and fun helps both groups appreciate the light in each other.

It is hard to overstate what Allie’s inter-generational events have meant to some of our TOAM families.  Families who have brought their children into hospitals find their children more at ease and aware of their innate power to lighten the mood. A TOAM family spent part of their summer vacation in a retirement complex in Texas and their son went into “TOAM-mode” and chatted up everyone he saw in the hallways. Our children are still young but it is our greatest hope that we will see their inter-generational experiences shine through their actions when they are older. 

One of our original TOAM kids insists on calling St. John’s “the place that TOAM was born.” And in many ways, that makes a lot of sense. We treasure our relationship with St. John’s and we are so very grateful to Allie who has made our inter-generational missions so special.

KIDS on a Mission: Riverwest Food Pantry

We’re a community of generosity. We’re all here to give and we’re all here to receive.

This is how Samantha, the volunteer leader, started out our morning at Riverwest Food Pantry. We are so grateful to her and the rest of the staff and visitors at RFP for welcoming our organization. We were treated the same as everyone else there- we were expected to help, to follow the rules, and to be kind. This was our first event for the Kids on a Mission and that level of responsibility and expectation was exactly what kids in the elementary age group need to start their lives in service. Kids have a true sense of fairness (although they might not always practice that with their siblings) and it really is our duty to empower them to become those change-makers we know they can be! 

RFP is a dynamic, necessary part of our Milwaukee community and we hope to return again early in 2017. We would encourage you to check them out on their website, to visit them as a family, or to consider making a donation. They are in great need of shopping carts (they raffle them off), new underwear, socks, and have an especially great need for men’s clothing. They receive donated clothing Wednesday and Friday mornings between 9-11am at their St. Casimir site. Food donations are taken at their St. Casimir site Wednesday, Friday or Saturday mornings between 8-11am.